Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Blackadder Remastered: The Ultimate Edition

In The Hall of Great British Comedy, where all manner of witty, farcical and bawdy behavior is stored for safekeeping, there are a handful of TV shows which preside over all the rest. Fare such as Fawlty Towers, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Absolutely Fabulous, The Office and Mr. Bean are all concepts that are so perfect in their conception and execution that they’ve found big audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. Alas, poor Blackadder, despite airings on both A&E and PBS, has never had much more than a cult following here in the U.S – which is unfortunate, since it’s every bit the standout as the aforementioned programs and is more than deserving of being spoken of in the same breath. It details the exploits of one Edmund Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) and his exploits throughout different eras of English history. Throughout his numerous incarnations, he’s accompanied by the reliably dimwitted Baldrick (Tony Robinson) and a handful of bumbling confidants and comical nemeses.

For a series with numerous strengths, perhaps its strongest is its wordplay: the way it deftly shifts from highbrow, almost lyrical comedic prose to simplistic, monosyllabic insult humor. If by some chance you feel it’s going over your head, stick around a few minutes and a penis or fart gag will invariably pop up. It’s tempting to throw out some quotes from the series, but frankly there are far too many to choose from, and I’m not even sure how they’d come across without the delivery of the fine cast which makes up the whole of Blackadder.

Ah, yes, the cast! Leading the troupe is, of course, Atkinson, and he’s probably never been finer than he is as Blackadder. For as big as Mr. Bean made him, this is an entirely different side of the man. You may have glimpsed flashes of his Adder brilliance in some of his other roles, but I’m pretty sure he’s never been given material that’s as suited to his talents as what writers Richard Curtis (Love Actually) and Ben Elton (The Young Ones) cooked up throughout the course of this series. This is largely a suave, calculated performance, and it’s impossible to imagine anyone other than Atkinson playing the part. He’s a true leading man, and far removed from the inept supporting player he so often seems to end up playing elsewhere. Tony Robinson’s Baldrick is, on the other hand, a simpleton – he represents the common man thrust into otherwise uncommon situations. Again, Robinson’s portrayal is so ideal that it becomes very easy to assume that he’s an imbecile in real life, although as various interviews on this set prove, he’s actually an incredibly well-spoken man (and, as I understand it, heavily involved in shaping the political landscape in his country). The rest of the main cast we’ll get to in due course, but before getting there, a roll call must be made of various actors that litter the Blackadder landscape in guest shots throughout the series: Jim Broadbent, Miriam Margolyes, Peter Cook, Rik Mayall, Tom Baker, Simon Jones, Ronald Lacey, Robbie Coltrane, Nigel Planer, Chris Barrie, Adrian Edmondson, Geoffrey Palmer, Colin Firth, and even Kate Moss! Those are only the most noticeable ones, and yet that’s still a pretty hefty cross-section of U.K. talent.

So we’ve got a slew of great actors delivering an even greater slew of pitch-perfect dialogue. Additionally, Blackadder boasts outstanding costumes. It’s the kind of stuff you’d see in any given BBC-produced period drama, only here it dresses up the comedy. Whether a character needs to appear a part of the regal aristocracy or a grungy manservant, the seemingly effortless capture of the period dress is a big part of what makes Blackadder so special.

Read the rest of this review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show: The Complete Fifth Season

Just about every piece of criticism I’ve ever read about The Mary Tyler Moore Show (or just plain Mary Tyler Moore, which is the title in the opening credits) goes to great lengths to talk about how it’s one of the greatest sitcoms in TV history. Maybe it is. Maybe it’s not. When you start attaching the label “greatest” to pieces of pop culture, there tend to be expectations involved, and surely that’s the case if the viewer is new to the show. I’ve got a massive amount of unconditional love for Mary Tyler Moore, but I watched this particular set with a more critical eye than I normally would, and tried to be a little bit more objective throughout my viewing.

The truth is that a fair amount of this series is horribly dated by today’s standards. What made the show so groundbreaking at the time – the idea of a career woman making it on her own without the help of a man – today seems awfully quaint and na├»ve. Further, there’s a great deal of sexism that pops up from time to time. Sometimes, when it’s from anchorman Ted Baxter (Ted Knight), it’s appropriately funny because Baxter is supposed to be a clueless buffoon. Other times, however, it comes from Mary’s boss, Lou Grant (Edward Asner), and it’s these instances that may very well have the power to get under people’s skin. Lou wasn’t like Ted, or even Archie Bunker for that matter: he was an intelligent, decent man, and a good boss, so it becomes all the more obnoxious when Mary is still expected to get him his coffee. In this season, when Mary is promoted to producer, she has to beg Lou to give her more responsibility; in his mind, giving her the title was plenty. Much of the series is probably an accurate reflection of what single career-minded women were going through in the ‘70s, so it’s really important to take all that into context when watching the show.

Read the rest of this review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Nip/Tuck: Season Five, Part Two

The press release for this set finishes up with two sentences: “And Liz says ‘I do’ to the last person you’d imagine. Time to stretch your imagination, fans.” When even the marketing department can no longer take a show seriously, it must be Nip/Tuck. As a fan since day one, I’m past resenting the show for failing to be as good as it once was, and have moved on to embracing Nip/Tuck for the freakshow it’s become. How freaky you ask? Well, in one episode, when Dr. Troy (Julian McMahon) refuses to give a woman an unnecessary mastectomy, she performs the surgery on herself – in the lobby of McNamara/Troy – with an electric carving knife.

Never a show to be too far behind the times, another installment features a pair of lovers who’ve taken their vampiric bloodlust a bit too far. You’ve seen these folks at goth clubs, I’m sure, but have secretly hoped it was all an act. Nip/Tuck is here to show you that the freakshow never ends, and that people do indeed partake in mutual bloodsucking. Surely the most outrageous display of hedonistic debasement comes in the form of the guy who likes to fuck furniture. If I hadn’t been laughing so hard, I might have turned away. What’s most noteworthy about this block of episodes, is that there isn’t a villain in the traditional Nip/Tuck sense – no Carver, or Escobar – although Eden (AnnaLynne McCord) does show up a couple times to fan a few flames.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Premium Hollywood.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Doctor Who: Hornets' Nest - The Stuff Of Nightmares

By guest columnist Margot Layne

We read the rumors last summer: Tom Baker was returning to Doctor Who. We, the faithful, the soi-disant Whovians, the former members of DWAS (the UK organization, not the US version), we happy few, we band of scarf-wearing, K-9-loathing, Romana 1-not-2 loyalists, dismissed the story instantly. Our Tom spurns all offers to associate himself with the role. He always has, he always will[1]. After all, he was and is The Doctor.

But the unthinkable happened, the rumors were true; Tom would return in an audio play as the Fourth Doctor. For an instant, we allowed ourselves to hope. Big Finish produces scads of very good-to-excellent Doctor Who audios with high production values, audio artists, real Who Actors, and real Who writers. This could be good. Maybe Tom would be working with Louise Jameson (the savage Leela), or Mary Tamm (Romana 1) or Elisabeth Sladen (Our Sarah). None of us dared to imagine Tom and Lalla Ward together again. The smart money was on Nicholas Courtney because Nearly-Ubiquitous Nick has revived his role as the Brigadier for television, direct-to video, audio, live theater, cereal boxes, matchbook covers, and at least one email adventure. Then the press release dropped like a lump of mashed potatoes on a high school cafeteria tray-- no Big Finish, no Leela, not even the Brig. We would get Tom and Captain Mike Yates (Richard Franklin). Really? Captain Yates?? He left the show before Tom joined it. Oh, we had a baaad feeling about this.

"Hornets’ Nest: The Stuff of Nightmares" is the first of five audio releases. Written by Paul Magrs, it is not an audio play but is really an audio interpretation of a story. Magrs evokes a Philip Hinchcliffe mixture of horror and humor. Hinchcliffe was the definitive producer of Doctor Who during Tom Baker’s tenure, achieving high ratings and fan appreciation numbers, but ultimately driven from the job for scaring the kiddies too much. Magrs story isn’t bad. The Earth is invaded by a swarm of intelligent hornets, who, like all Doctor Who invaders of Earth want to take over the planet by secret and terribly indirect and strange methods. In this case, they inhabit and animate the stuffed bodies of museum animal specimens which have been discarded by those museums as penance for their sinful centuries of shooting and preserving dead rare animals. Yes, it is literally the stuff of nightmares; evil sawdust-and-chemical-filled badgers, voles, lions, tigers, and bears animated by alien Hymenoptera hell-bent on world domination through, well...animated taxidermy. Even the best Doctor Who stories rarely stand up to careful analysis so don’t be put off by the absurdity of the plot.

Franklin does a nice job as Captain Yates, being true to his own character and not trying to be the Brigadier. Magrs wrote the part well and provided a plausible if unlikely reason for the Fourth Doctor seeking out an older Captain Yates instead of more familiar companions. Baker and Franklin take turns narrating the story events with Baker filling in the events leading up to the present situation. Basil Exposition would be a welcome presence. Susan Jameson voices the part of Mrs. Wibsey, the housekeeper for the Doctor’s house called The Nest. She’s good in a Mrs. Danvers sort of way and if The Nest is not exactly Manderley, neither is it the TARDIS[2]. Whenever Mrs. Wibsey is involved, the disc becomes a proper audio play instead of a mere reading. But where is the TARDIS? We hope, no demand, it returns in the upcoming episodes.

Later in the story Daniel Hill enters as the Hornet-possessed Percy Noggins. Percy is a taxidermy artist, broken-hearted by the removal of his beloved stuffed animals. His heartbreak made him vulnerable to the mind-control powers of the Hornets’ hive mind but the good Doctor relieves him of the evil influence through his own powers of hypnosis. Hill’s portrayal is good and his scenes with the Doctor further relieve the exposition.

And Tom? As he never fails to remind us, he still is The Doctor. His voice is a powerful instrument and, by ten minutes into the performance, is completely convincing. He reanimates the Fourth Doctor to an extent the alien Hornets can only envy. Tom’s Doctor is complete and accurate, all teeth, curls, and scarf. Best of all is the amazing laugh.

The disc is more than a novelty but less than a real Doctor Who adventure. There is enough value in it to make it worthwhile to Fourth Doctor devotees and the later episodes may be much better as the actors grow more comfortable with the story and their characters. Yet this disc shows just how good Big Finish is at producing Doctor Who and how others, even the mighty Beeb, fail to meet expectations. I can justify buying this disc on the grounds that if it is successful, Tom Baker might finally agree to do a proper turn as the Fourth Doctor for Big Finish. That would be such stuff as dreams are made on.

Here is the 2009 release schedule for the remaining episodes:

Episode 2: The Dead Shoes-- October 8
Episode 3: The Circus of Doom-- November 5
Episode 4: A Sting in the Tale-- December 3
Episode 5: Hive of Horror-- December 3

"Hornets' Nest: The Stuff of Nightmares" can be ordered from Who North America here in the U.S.

[1] Some have claimed he appeared in some sort of fan video called "The Dark Dimension" or "Dimensions in Slime" or something. Absolutely not true, Darlings.

[2] There is no madwoman in the attic, either, though it is delicious to imagine Mike Yates as a gun totin’ Jane Eyre to Tom’s Mr. Rochester.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Red Dwarf: Back to Earth

If you don’t know what smeg is all about, the Urban Dictionary defines it as such: “A futuristic British all-purpose swear word. From Red Dwarf.” Battlestar Galactica has frak, Farscape has frell…and Red Dwarf has smeg. If it sounds funnier than frak or frell, that’s because Red Dwarf is really a comedy that just so happens to be set in the far future, on a spaceship called the Red Dwarf. It first started on BBC Two in 1988, racking up a total of eight seasons before finally ending in 1999, and it built up a pretty serious following in the process; although I suppose describing anything to do with Red Dwarf as serious makes me a complete and total smeghead.

Truth be told, despite being a disciple of British sci-fi and comedy, I never really got into Red Dwarf which to this day mystifies me (perhaps even more so after watching this reunion special), as it should’ve fit like a very comfortable glove. The number of episodes of Red Dwarf I’ve seen over the years could probably be counted on one hand. I’m hardly an authority on it, but given the chance to check out Back to Earth – the only new Dwarf in over a decade – I jumped at it, if for no other reason than to see how I’d react all these years later.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Traffik: 20th Anniversary Edition

What struck me most about Traffik is that I was unable to decide whether or not it was more important than ever, or if it is a portrayal of a struggle that may be past its prime – or perhaps a little of both. The thing is, we live in a much different world than that of 1989, or even 2000, for that matter. There are so many more important issues that we must address on a near daily basis – the failed economy, unnecessary wars, and global warming, to name but a few – and the trafficking of heroin (or indeed any drug) quite frankly seems minor in comparison. But therein lays the beauty and importance of Traffik. Why are we spending money to combat a system that shows no signs of slowing down, and is very likely affecting the livelihoods of people in foreign countries? The drug war has failed. Not just in our country, but in any country where people have the money and desire to get fucked up. To quote Bill Maher: “You want to support poor people in Latin America? Buy more coke.”

Read this entire DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.